The nation’s largest gun-rights group is stepping up its campaign ad spending less than two weeks before the midterm elections.
The NRA’s Super PAC is planning over $1.1 million in digital ad spending across multiple battleground states in the coming days, according to its latest Federal Election Commission (FEC) filings. The ads, set to release on Thursday, are slated to run in support of the Republican Senate candidates in Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Nevada, North Carolina, Georgia, and Arizona.
The planned buy comes on the heels of a series of digital, TV, and radio ads from the Super PAC that have repeatedly targeted the same six Senate races. They also arrive against the backdrop of ongoing internal strife at the NRA. Numerous legal battles and allegations of corruption against the NRA’s leadership have coincided with a steep decline in revenue and falling membership, according to an internal report published by The Reload earlier this year. As a result, the group’s spending on legal fees ballooned to over $48 million in 2021, eclipsing the spending dedicated to the group’s other priorities like political spending, gun-safety training, and member outreach. Whether the NRA can effectively impact tight races while dealing with that turmoil could determine how influential the group remains moving forward.
The new NRA ads reviewed by The Reload maintain a consistent theme of attacking Democratic candidates in each race for supporting gun-control measures and being “soft on crime.” The ads appear to be part of a concerted effort to tie rising crime rates with Democrats’ support for new gun restrictions.
“A man brutally killed in downtown Pittsburgh. Stabbed to death with gardening shears. His murderer convicted to a life sentence. Until John Fetterman voted to set him free,” one of the Super PAC’s radio ads begins. “Fetterman then wanted to release nearly 1200 murderers.”
The ad then turns toward guns.
“Fetterman wants to take away your fundamental right to defend yourself and your family while opening jail cells for violent criminals,” it continues. “F-rated by the NRA, Fetterman supports unconstitutional red-flag gun confiscation laws and banning the most common semi-automatic firearms and magazines in Pennsylvania. That’s why Pennsylvania gun owners support Dr. Oz.”
The issue mix is present in most of the NRA Super PAC’s ads from the six senate races.
“Under Mark Kelly, crime is on the rise,” a digital ad claims. “Kelly co-founded a radical gun-control group promoting anti-gun liberals across the country, making Arizona less safe. Don’t be left defenseless: Vote Blake Masters for Senate.”
“Mandela Barnes will leave you defenseless,” a Wisconsin ad claims. “While Mandela Barnes calls to defund the police, Ron Johnson will defend the police and your right to self-defense. Defend your family: Vote Ron Johnson for Senate.”
“Raphael Warnock sides with Biden’s anti-gun agenda, supports unconstitutional gun-confiscation orders, and sits back as crime runs rampant across the country,” a digital ad claims. “Georgians can’t trust Raphael Warnock to keep us safe. Defend your freedom: Vote Herschel Walker for Senate.
The NRA’s regular PAC, which has raised more than $17 million and spent nearly $8 million as of its most recent FEC filing, has adopted the same combination of issues in many of its ads.
“In Joe Biden’s America, crime is out of control,” an Arizona radio ad from the PAC claims. “Left-wing politicians open the prison doors, they defund the police, and anti-gun radicals like Katie Hobbs want to take away your right to self-defense. Katie Hobbs supports California-style gun bans and said she was outraged by the Supreme Court decision to guarantee your right to self-defense outside your home. That’s why Katie Hobbs earned an F rating from the NRA. Kari Lake supports your right to self-defense Lake supports the right to carry and will work to increase resources for school security while bringing violent criminals to justice.”
The group’s incorporation of crime into its messaging coincides with an ongoing decline in interest surrounding gun politics. A recent New York Times poll found that just one percent of voters rate guns as their most important issue, down eight points from July. The declining prioritization of gun politics among voters has caused gun groups on both sides of the issue to expand their messaging to emphasize other issues, like public safety, election security, and abortion.
However, the NRA has stuck to running ads in races that directly implicate gun policy. In contrast, its most prominent opponent, Everytown for Gun Safety, has begun to invest in races that don’t affect how guns are regulated. The NRA has also run more ads that focus exclusively on candidates’ positions on guns. In a Nevada ad, the group praised Republican Adam Laxalt for being “rated A+ by the NRA” and attacked Democrat Catherine Cortez Masto on a range of votes she has taken in the U.S. Senate.
“The Constitution says you have a right to self-defense no matter where you are, but Catherine Cortez Masto opposes your right to self-defense,” the Super PAC ad, which the group also ran in Spanish, said. “In Washington D.C., she was against your right to carry, opposing a federal law that would have recognized your right to self-defense beyond the Nevada state line. Catherine Cortez Masto voted for magazine bans and against pro-gun judges. Justice Gorsuch? She voted no. Justice Kavanaugh? No. Justice Barrett? No. Every time Catherine Cortez Masto got a vote on a pro-gun Supreme Court Justice, she voted no. No on the justices that just protected your right to defend yourself outside your home. But Adam Laxalt defends your rights.”
The same is true of the group’s latest North Carolina and Pennsylvania ads.
“Your vote matters. Cheri Beasley would gut the filibuster, paving the way for Biden’s radical anti-gun agenda,” another Super PAC ad said. “North Carolina can’t afford six years of Cheri Beasley and Joe Biden. Defend your family: vote Ted Bud for Senate.”
“Our right to self-defense hangs in the balance,” another ad claims. “Pennsylvania needs Dr. Oz to stand against the anti-gun extremists like Biden and Fetterman and protect our constitutional rights. Dr. Oz needs your vote.”
The NRA did not respond to a request for comment about its messaging on crime or how it plans to spend on advertising in the final two weeks of election season. According to FEC filings, the NRA’s Super PAC has spent just over $7 million on federal elections in 2022 through the end of September. Everytown’s Super PAC has spent $8 million and has publicly announced plans for millions more in federal spending. It has also branched out into spending on key state-level races.